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Sir Joseph Bazalgette (1819-1891)
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Born into a family of French origin, Bazalgette studied engineering with an Irish civil engineer, before setting up as a consulting engineer in Westminster. In 1849 he became assistant surveyor to the second Metropolitan Commission of Sewers, which had been working towards a system of intercepting sewers for London. He later became their engineer, and he kept the post when the commission was replaced by the Metropolitan Board of Works in 1856 and remained their engineer until the Board was replaced by the London County Council in 1889.

Sir Joseph Bazalgette (1819-1891)

The memorial to Sir Joseph Bazalgette on the Embankment near Hungerford Bridge, a rather modest commemoration of an engineer whose achievements are all still an important part of London’s infrastructure today.

Most of London’s water supply came straight from the Thames, and much of its sewage went back into it. By the middle of the nineteenth century the river had become a stinking sewer, and there had been numerous cholera epidemics since the 1830s, killing many thousands of people, though the connection between the two was not made for many years. Campaigners such as Edwin Chadwick had called for sweeping changes to be made to the capital’s sewage system, and Bazalgette was to bring these plans to fruition. During the hot summer of 1858 the state of the Thames was at its worst, and the so-called ‘Great Stink’ almost closed Parliament itself. That same year the MBW obtained an Act to start work on the proposed new system of intercepting sewers, which is still in use to this day. The northern section was the more complicated as it involved reclaiming land from the Thames to build an embankment that housed not only the low-level sewer, but also the underground District Railway and a tunnel for water pipes and other utilities. It also provided a new road between the City and Westminster and allowed for the creation of new riverside gardens, which can still be enjoyed today.

In 1877 an Act allowed the MBW to buy all the private London bridges and free them from toll, and it was Bazalgette’s job to survey the bridges and put a value on them. Many of them needed maintenance work to be carried out, but Bazalgette also recommended that three of them, Putney, Hammersmith and Battersea, be rebuilt, and he himselfdesigned their replacements. He also put forward plans for Tower Bridge, the Blackwall Tunnel and the Woolwich Free Ferry, though only the last design was carried out. He was also involved in town planning and played a part in the creation of new streets such as Northumberland Avenue and Charing Cross Road.

In 1846 he became a Companion of the Bath and in 1874 he was knighted for his work. He died at his home in Wimbledon, aged seventy-one, and is buried in the local churchyard. Bazalgette was one of the greatest and most prolific of all the Victorian engineers, but his principal legacy is mostly unseen and underground, and his only London monument, on the Embankment beside the Thames at Hungerford Bridge, is not as prominent as it deserves to be.

Sir Joseph Bazalgette (1819-1891)

This statue of Whistler was erected on the north side of the bridge in 2005.

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